Your Help Needed for Grad School Project

Friends of Sámi heritage, can you help an American student with her project?

Kjirsten Winters is a Norwegian-American graduate student in occupational therapy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. She is seeking help with a project exploring the racism and marginalization the Sámi have suffered under colonialism in Scandinavia. As this prejudice is often difficult for Americans to see, much less understand, it has much to teach us about how we perceive race.

As the result of her research, Kjirsten is creating a handmade book that includes photos, illustrations, and narrative. The book will not be published, but Kjirsten is willing to make color copies for interested contributors.

Her timeline is short, with submissions due by Friday, December 7th.

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Retracing Roots: Generational Shame

Melissa Lantto has a compelling post over at Retracing Roots about perceiving some self-destructive behaviors (such as alcoholism) within her adopted Sami community, and tying them to the indigenous experience of assimilation.

This comes close to home for me, having discovered that within the same family line (from Swedish Lapland), I am the descendant of both whiskey merchants and Laestadian clergy. Laestadius was the 19th century half-Sami religious leader who demanded complete temperance from his followers, and is alternately credited for preserving Sami culture and criticized for burying it under a severe, fundamentalist doctrine.

Sami or not, we are each of us descended from the colonizer and the colonized. Does our heritage inform our current choices? Can we reconcile competing narratives? What stories do we share with our children? In what culture do we located our “pride”?

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Penny’s Story

Samuel Balto, 1898 in a photo by Čáliid Lágádus via Norske Polarhistorie

It has been over 30 years that I learned about the “family secret” of my Sami heritage.

In about 1978, my mother’s cousin, May, called to ask for photos, since she was making a trip to Karasjok. Married to a Japanese-American over family protests, I answered that I didn’t think they would be interested, since my mother had always said that my grandparents would have been upset over this marriage.

“There are some things you don’t know about yourself . . . “

May responded “Well, there are some things you don’t know about yourself,” and proceeded with the story of the Sámi who came to the United States in 1898, hired to teach the Alaskan Eskimos reindeer husbandry. In that group were my great-grandparents, Anders and Marit Balto, their daughter, my Aunt Mary, and great-uncle, Sam Balto, foreman of the Sámi group. Well I thought this was exciting and exotic, especially after being a “European mutt” amongst a wonderful Japanese family of Samurai heritage.

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